Seychelles Shark Attacks

There have now been two suspected shark attacks in just over a fortnight in the Seychelles. In the first, a 36 year old French diver was killed on 1st August off Anse Lazio beach on Praslin island. Then on 16 August a British tourist on his honeymoon died after being attacked while swimming at the same beach. He was pulled out of the water, but died later in hospital.

Seychelles authorities have closed the beach and other nearby beaches, and have stopped people diving in the area.

At this stage it is not clear whether it was the same shark in both cases, or even which type(s) of shark(s) were involved.

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Wildlife Video from Britain’s Seas

Here’s a short, but impressive video from the BBC about some of the wildlife you can find in British waters.

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Virtual Tour of Hoi Ha Wan

WWF have launched a virtual tour of Hoi Ha Wan on their website. It gives visitors an overview of Hoi Ha Wan and the Marine Life Centre itself, as well as its varied habitat and life, including coastal habitats, corals, fish, invertebrates.

You can see the tour on WWF’s website.

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Coral Reefs: Winners and Losers

There has been a lot of talk about how global warming might affect coral reefs, and it seems clear that different reefs will be affected differently. It makes sense to concentrate on saving those reefs that can be saved, rather than wasting resources on reefs that are likely to die anyway. But how do you tell which is which? Well that might have got a little bit easier.

Spatial ecologist Joseph Maina of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues have performed a global assessment of areas most susceptible to bleaching. They have examined satellite and tidal data to identify where water is getting warmer. They have also looked at factors that might make it possible for coral to cope with temperature increases. This includes things like high, swift tides, cooling currents, existing large temperature variations that existing corals can already cope with.  They also considered destructive factors such as run-off from rivers. All of this work has allowed them to generate a map which shows that some reefs have a brighter future than others.

Reunion in the Indian Ocean comes out best. Using a scale where 1 means maximum stress and 0 means minimum stress, Reunion had a score of 0.13.  Key Largo in Florida had a very good score of 0.25 for climactic stress, but it has been badly affected by runoff and over-fishing so it’s total stress level is a high 0.80. That means it would be a good candidate for better protection, since its low climactic score means it has a good potential to respond and recover.

The team’s findings seem to imply that the most likely winners are in the Pacific, northern Red Sea, East Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of the Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka, Reunion and Mauritius.  Unfortunately South-east Asian reefs appear disproportionately among the potential losers. Lombok has Indonesia’s best scores, but they are only 0.74, which is very high stress.

Some people feel this information will allow conservationists to focus on areas that can be saved. But others are not convinced and point out that it is too hard to tell which corals will bleach in future. For example, John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, points out that “The Bahamas bleached in 1998 but not in 2003, while the Virgin Islands bleached in 2010 but not before, and that’s just in the Caribbean.”

But at least this map will add to the debate about what can be done to save coral reefs.

You can read more about the research on Science’s website.

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Bodies Recovered in Subic Bay

The Philippine Star is reporting that both bodies have been recovered from the engine room of the USS New York. The divers were Tin Shun Chuen from Hong Kong, and Steven Brittian, who was an instructor at Johan’s in Subic Bay. At this stage it is unclear what happened. On a personal note, I’m very glad the third diver is OK, since he’s a friend of mine.

Our sympathies to the family and friends of the divers involved.

 

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Two Divers Die in Lake Pupuke, near Auckland

Two divers on a training course have been killed on a dive in Lake Pupuke. The divers, Daniel Waata Stoneham and Tyron North, went missing on Friday 15th July. Apparently a third student was injured.  Mr. North’s body was recovered on Friday afternoon. Mr. Stoneham’s body was  found today, in 53 metres of water.  At this stage, there is no information on what happened.

Our sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved.

More information from the New Zealand Herald’s website.

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2 Divers Reported Missing in Subic Bay

There are reports that 2 divers have been missing since Sunday (17 July) in Subic Bay, the former US naval base that is north of Manila. They were diving the USS New York, which was scuttled in December 1941 to prevent her falling into Japanese hands. She now lies on her port side in about 27 metres, with her starboard side coming up to around 15 metres.

The divers were reported to be a Hong Kong resident, Tin Shun Chuen, and an American divemaster, Steven Brittian, who I met briefly when I was in Subic.

I believe one body has been located so far.

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Neil and the Homicidal Seal

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

OK so last weekend in Northland wasn’t that bad, but after 20 years in Asia, I’m not what you would call acclimatised to a New Zealand winter. So when some bright spark suggested that we go diving this weekend, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.  But then I naively allowed myself to get lulled into a false sense of security by the beautiful, clear, blue sky and the glorious sunshine that looked so warm and inviting (from inside the house out of the biting wind). And so on Friday afternoon Rita and I headed up to Whangarei to stay with Andy and Fiona, BSAC NZ‘s National Instructors (We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!).

The plan was to dive on the Saturday with Dive Tutukaka. Mitch and Jacqui had been talking about coming as well, but they suddenly realised that their windows were dirty, and so they had to call in an emergency window cleaner on the Saturday. Their loss was our gain, as we had the run of Boorer Palace. We made pretty good time getting to Whangarei which was helped by skipping dinner. Fortunately Andy and Fiona’s fridge was well stocked and we were able to scrounge an unexpected meal from our hosts.

Dolphin off our bowDive Tutukaka were expecting the weather to deteriorate throughout the day on Saturday, and wanted an early start. So as dawn broke bright and early (well, early), I was dragged from my pit. Kicking and screaming were involved. We arrived at Tutukaka at 8am and it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky. We were diving from Calypso, which is quite a large boat with a good covered area and there was plenty of room to spread out since there were only 10 divers.  The trip out to the Poor Knights took about an hour and was interrupted by a pod of 6 dolphins, which kept getting in our way, demanding to be photographed.

We anchored near Fruitcake Rock, where we could see a number of fur seals climbing up the cliffs. These are apparently young males, who visit at this time of year and congregate around this small island / lump of rock (delete as applicable). You can tell that they must be young males, because in keeping with young males from all species, they are the only demographic stupid enough to indulge in mock fights on a vertical cliff face.  But they were no use to us up there, so don’t tell the conservationists but I was secretly hoping that one or two of them would fall off and into the water.

Having seen the seals, we all started racing to kit up. Although in my case “racing” is a bit of a exaggeration. The water temperature had convinced me to have another go at using my drysuit. After several attempts I have come to the conclusion that to put on one of these  “self-donning” drysuits you have to be double-jointed and have the help of a team of “dressers”. I had also decided that I would connect up the pee-valve for the first time ever. I have to admit that that was the only part of the suit that I did manage to “self-don”. The last time I’d worn this drysuit, it didn’t quite live up to its name and I got soaked. Mitch thinks this might be because I pulled open the neck seal underwater to stop it throttling me. Well, the neck seal carried on with its attempts to strangle me, which went some way to explaining my bulging eyes, although it did have the benefit of reducing my air consumption.

Nudibranch at the Poor KnightsOnce in the water I did a quick buoyancy check, which confirmed that I was grossly over-weighted, before dropping down under the boat. After about 10 minutes I managed to get enough air into the drysuit to detach  myself from the seabed and we got on with the dive. There was lots of kelp, plenty of good fish life, a couple of nice nudibranchs. After about half an hour Rita turned to me, clapped her hands like a performing seal and looked around shrugging her shoulders. 30 seconds later, the first of 3 seals appeared and swam round us within touching distance. It was really impressive to see how large, powerful and athletic they are – just what I’ve been hoping Liverpool would find in a striker, although we don’t need the striker to be as good at diving as these seals, since we’ve already got Stevie G.

Carpet Shark at the Poor KnightsAfter having a good look at us, the seals finally headed off into the distance, and while they were definitely the highlight of the dive, it wasn’t over yet. Another diver called us over and showed us a carpet shark that was sheltering on the bottom, unfazed about having its picture taken. My first seal and my first carpet shark all on one dive!

Back on the boat, and after a great deal of effort, I managed to escape from the clutches of my neck seal, which was innocently pretending that it had nothing to do with the bruises and welts that made me look like a victim of the Boston Strangler.

We took a quick break for lunch while the crew told us about the history of the Poor Knights and its status as a protected reserve, which helps to explain why the fish life is so prolific and relatively approachable.

For a second dive we moved to Rikoriko cave, the largest sea cave by volume in the world. We anchored just outside while several people forced me back into my drysuit. I’d taken a fair amount of lead off my belt, so my descent was slightly more controlled and elegant than on the first dive. We headed into the cave and swam along the left hand wall. Inside there was no kelp, but there were several large shoals of blue maomao. From the back of the cave we looked back towards the entrance , which was a beautiful view with the light streaming in. The visibility was exceptionally good and the clear blue water was fantastic.

Sperm whale jawboneAt the back right hand side of the cave was a whale jawbone, which was apparently from a sperm whale that died and was washed into the cave. While we were looking at this a boat came into the cave and anchored, and we watched a number of people climbing up onto it. Slightly surprised to see another dive boat we headed back to the entrance before surfacing, only to find that it was our boat. They had moved it to the middle of the cave, and because it’s such a big cave it took us some time to get back.  When the skipper asked why we’d swum right under the boat and surfaced miles away, I had to admit that I hadn’t recognised his bottom.

Getting out of my drysuit was slightly easier than getting in, and I was pleasantly surprised  that my it had lived up to its name and I was actually dry. Apparently not pulling open the neck seal underwater does help, who’d have thought it? As for the most uncomfortable experience of the day? Well that was a toss-up between removing the pee-valve catheter which was well and truly glued to everything, and my homicidal neck seal’s attempts to murder me!

That evening, we went back to Andy and Fiona’s for home-made pizza, which was very good. We raised a small glass to a very successful day’s diving. Then we started drinking!

Seal at the Poor KnightsAnother excellent dive trip with two spectacular dives, and I’m really glad we went. Thanks very much to Andy and Fiona for their hospitality.  As for Mitch and Jacqui – I’m sure your windows look lovely! But my abiding memory of the weekend will be of seals – both neck and fur.

 

(Photos courtesy of Rita Cheung)

 

 

 

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Talk by Simon Mitchell

Last Wednesday I was very fortunate to go to a talk by Simon Mitchell at the Western Underwater Dive Club. Western Underwater Dive Club meets on Wednesdays and Fridays at their club house on Portage Road, which is also where BSAC New Zealand (or which I am a member) also meets.

Simon Mitchell is an anesthesiologist and a specialist in hyperbaric medicine. He is also a hugely experienced diver and a great presenter. This is the first time I had heard him talk, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

He gave a talk on 10 of his diving-related adventures. At the risk of spoiling things for anyone who hasn’t heard this presentation, these were the ones he listed:

  1. Back in the 1980s, using explosives to blow holes in coral reefs on tropical atolls, to allow better access for boats. Apart from being ecologically questionable in these more(?) enlightened times, it’s a good job there weren’t any health and safety inspectors on the trip! Actually they weren’t doing it for fun, there was a serious purpose to it.
  2. An expedition to the supposed wreck of the General Grant at the Auckland Islands, which are over 300 km south of New Zealand. It was wrecked in 1866 on the way from Melbourne to London, and was carrying a substantial amount of gold which has never been recovered. There were only 10 survivors, and when they were rescued they had spent 18 months on the Auckland Islands.
  3. Helping to confirm the identity of the SS Cumberland. The SS Cumberland was sunk in 1917 in 95 metres of water after hitting a German mine laid by the SMS Wolf.
  4. Diving “The Secret Lake”. This was a freshwater lake that Simon had seen photographs of, but whose location is a closely guarded secret because of the fragility of its environment. At the end of the evening, we were no wiser about its location, but had seen a few more photographs of it, along with photos of some other spectacularly clear New Zealand lakes including one which may lead into a cave system.
  5. Diving to try and find the engine of Morgan Saxton’s helicopter. The rest of the helicopter and Morgan Saxton’s body had already been recovered, but the engine was still in Lake Wanaka. As far as I know it still is, as despite 2 expeditions swimming along the contour on which it is supposed to lie, Simon didn’t come across it. He thinks it has rolled further down the sloping lake bed.
  6. Port Kembla Expedition. Along with Pete Mesley, Simon was responsible for identifying the Port Kembla and recovering the ship’s bell. The Port Kembla was another victim of a First World War mine, the first casualty around New Zealand.
  7. An Antarctica trip, which involved diving under ice.
  8. Truk Lagoon. I’ve been fortunate to dive there and it is one of my favourite destinations. Having said that, I suspect Simon was diving some deeper wrecks than I was.
  9. Poor Knights. Again, the Poor Knights is somewhere even I’ve been. But there are some deep walls there, which is where Simon keeps his rebreather / deep diving skills honed.
  10. The Not the Centaur dive. The AHS Centaur was an Australian hospital ship that was sunk by a Japanese submarine off Queensland on 14 May 1943. 268 of the crew and medical personnel on board were killed. A guy called Donald Dennis claimed to have discovered the wreck, and the site was gazetted as a war grave. There was some controversy about its location, so on the anniversary of its sinking in 2002, Simon and Trevor Jackson conducted a 170 metre dive on it. They concluded that the ship was too small to be the Centaur, a conclusion supported by a subsequent Australian navy survey.

All in all, it was a fascinating talk over a wide range of dives / expeditions. Anyone who gets the chance to hear Simon Mitchell speak should certainly take advantage of it. You can read more about him on Wikipedia.

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Equipment Care Course

Our Sifu with the insides of a regulator. Last weekend I was on a 1.5 day Equipment Care course taught by Mitch Horn of BSAC NZ. The course was intended to go through the following topics:

  • Features of SCUBA diving equipment
  • Maintenance and servicing
  • Fault-finding and rectification
  • What you can do yourself
  • What to leave to the specialist

 

 

Cylinders that failed testingWe started off looking at basic equipment such as masks, snorkels, fins. Then we moved on to cylinders where we found out what is involved in doing a visual inspection, as well as what sort of things the inspectors are looking out for.  We also looked at regulators, computers, compasses. Next up were exposure suits, both wetsuits and drysuits, followed by BCDs, weights and weight belts. Finally we looked at accessories such as torches, knives and line cutters, reels and spools, SMBs, delayed SMBs, etc.  In each case, Mitch explained and demonstrated the various types of equipment available, how to look after them, how to diagnose and fix simple problems, and what to leave to the experts.

He then went on to suggest what should be in a “Save-A-Dive” kit, and went through some of the things in his tool box.

The second day was more of a workshop format, where we looked at various pieces of kit that people had brought in, such as a leaky pressure gauge, and Rita’s drysuit neck seal which needed some attention.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and it gave me a much better understanding of how things work. It was an excellent mix of theory and practical, with  a workshop that gave us plenty of chance to look at any of our own equipment that we had questions about or problems with.

I’d like to thank Mitch and Jacqui for all their hard work in preparing the course and the course materials.

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HMS Hermes in Sri Lanka – Now Diveable

HMS Hermes of the Royal Navy was the first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. She was laid down in January 1918, launched in September 1919 and finally commissioned in 1923.  In 1931 she was involved in the search for survivors from HMS Poseidon and apparently picked up 5 people.

During the Second World War she carried 12 Fairey Swordfish torpedo aircraft. She  served briefly with the Home Fleet, then in the southern Atlantic. After a collision with a merchant ship she was repaired in South Africa, before carrying out patrols in the Indian Ocean as part of the Eastern Fleet.

While undergoing repairs at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka she got advance warning of a Japanese air raid in time to leave port. Unfortunately on 9 April 1942 she was spotted by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft off Batticaloa. Subsequently she was attacked by a large number of Japanese bombers and sank with the loss of 307 men. A destroyer, a corvette and 2 tankers were also sunk. A hospital ship picked up 590 surivivors of the attack.

HMS Hermes now lies off Batticaloa at a depth of 58 metres, partially overturned to port with her shallowest point at around 44 metres.

During the Civil War in Sri Lanka, the dive site was inaccessible, but now the war is over, there are a number of operators offering dives on her to those divers who are suitably qualified. A rare chance to dive a piece of history.

 

 

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Poseidon Project Trailer

On 9th June 2011 it was 80 years since  HMS Poseidon sank off the coast of China after a collision with a merchant steamer.  HMS Poseidon was a Royal Navy Parthian Class submarine and she sank north of Weihai in Shandong province. Roughly 3 hours after the sinking, 6 of the 26 crew managed to escape from the sunken submarine and made it to the surface.

Steven Schwankert has been researching the history of this submarine for 5 years. I first got an inkling about it after he gave a talk to South China Diving Club in Hong Kong about diving Lake Khosvgol in Mongolia. Since then he has pieced together the story of what happened to the submarine before and after it sank.

There is now a trailer for a documentary about the Poseidon Project available on YouTube which I have taken the liberty of embedding here:

Ex-Portsmouth people should keep an eye out for the submarine escape training tower and Portsmouth Harbour station.

 

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